Reopening of the Seine for Swimming- Quest for Swimmable Cities

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The year 2024 is set to bring a significant change in the history of the Paris Summer Olympic and Paralympic games, with the reopening of the River Seine for swimming competitions and public swimming. This comes as a major shift, lifting a ban that was in place for a century due to pollution concerns. After numerous years of focused stormwater management, the clean waters of the Seine will be host to three Olympic and Paralympic events, reflecting a growing global commitment to swimmable cities.

This topic of “Reopening of the Seine for Swimming- Quest for Swimmable Cities” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

History of River Swimming

Early Instances

River swimming has a rich history, with many iconic instances dotting the timeline. The 1900 Paris Olympics saw Australia’s Freddie Lane winning two swimming events in the Seine, the 200 metres freestyle and a unique 200m obstacle race. This interesting race required athletes to maneuver over and under rows of boats, an idea drawn from Sequana, the Gallo-Roman goddess of the Seine. Swimming competitions during this period were mostly held in natural water bodies such as rivers, harbours, and lakes.

Shift to Pools

It was only in 1908 during the London Olympics that swimming events moved to landlocked pools. The rise of built pools was mainly due to safety considerations – protection from predators, stormwater, bacteria, and pollutants. Ocean baths and pools, as regulated spaces managed by local governments, provided safer environments for swimmers.

Role in Politics and Promotion

River swimming was also used as a tool for political and promotional purposes. China’s Mao Zedong is a notable figure who used river swimming to promote his health and political image. In Australia, Fred Cavill, a pioneer of swimming lessons for the masses, promoted swims in the Murray River after arriving from the UK in 1880.

Quest for Swimmable Cities

Recent Trends

The interest in river swimming never faded away entirely, and it has seen a resurgence in recent years. Environmental movements and research supporting the health benefits of outdoor swimming have fueled this trend. One of the prominent examples of this trend is the revival of swimming in the Seine, which is part of a €1.4 billion regeneration project that began in 2017.

Global Movement

Cities around the world are embracing the concept of swimmable cities. Efforts are underway to improve the water quality of the River Thames in London. Copenhagen has introduced summer swimming sites in its harbor. Australia is seeing a rise in new swimming sites along the Parramatta River and in Sydney Harbour.

Impact on Health and Environment

The growing awareness of the role of blue spaces – oceans, rivers, lakes, canals, and other waterways – in human health and wellbeing is driving the popularity of outdoor swimming. The public interest in clean, swimmable waterways for health, wellbeing, and pleasure can also bring about significant benefits for these environments.

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Way Forward

To ensure the longevity and success of initiatives like the swimmable Seine, it is essential to maintain consistent efforts in preserving and improving water quality. This includes regular monitoring, innovative stormwater management strategies, and stringent pollution control. Public awareness and community engagement are crucial in maintaining these efforts.


The reopening of the River Seine for swimming in the Paris 2024 Summer Olympic and Paralympic games marks a historic moment in the journey towards swimmable cities. This step not only exemplifies the power of concerted environmental efforts but also underscores the potential of public spaces in promoting health and wellbeing. As we move forward, a sustained commitment to the preservation of these water bodies is vital to secure the legacy of clean, swimmable urban rivers.

Practice Question for Mains

In light of the recent opening of River Seine for the 2024 Olympics, discuss the global efforts towards swimmable cities. (250 words)

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